If you can get past the goofy mascot and the history of the football program claiming — without any merit — that it is a national champion, the truth is that in this round of realignment, UCF looks like a potentially promising target for the Big 12 if it chooses to expand. So with a report Thursday indicating the Knights are right now one of the few on the league’s shortlist under consideration, it’s worth exploring what exactly is so appealing about the school and what it’d bring to the table.
Here’s the case for the Knights.
1. Massive enrollment
Only one Big 12 school ranks inside the top-10 nationally in 2020-21 enrollment — and that’s Texas, which is SEC-bound. Yet UCF, an AAC program, ranks No. 1 on the list with an enrollment of nearly 72,000. It has ranked No. 1 on the list since 2015, too, so it’s not a one-off. With that size of enrollment and an operating budget of almost two billion (with a b!), the educational value UCF brings to the table is undeniable. And seriously, for as important as sports are, shouldn’t that rank pretty high on the list of priorities?
2. Big, untapped market for Big 12
There’s only one team east of the Mississippi in the Big 12 — West Virginia — so expanding all the way to Orlando, Florida to add UCF would at the very least expand the league’s market reach. Say what you will about potential inconvenience for travel — and I get it, I don’t think OSU fans are going to be making the trek every year — but tapping into the Orlando market might be really valuable for a league trying to branch out and survive.
The Orlando market is also the largest TV market without an NFL team, so while a lot of folks will almost certainly be rooting for an NFL team — the Jags or the Dolphins most likely — the positive is that a lot of folks in the market may be more apt to be engaged in UCF and, thus, the Big 12.
3. Recruiting hotbed
Five Florida players in the 2021 rankings were ranked inside the top-25 of the national rankings. In 2022 that number is four. Florida is known for its top-end talent and adding UCF would unlock new access for the Big 12 in potentially recruiting the state more fervently.
4. Football success
So sure, the American Athletic Conference isn’t exactly the SEC West, but credit where it is due here: UCF has been consistently very good in football for a good while now since transitioning from C-USA. It won 13, 12 and 10 games in 2017, 2018 and 2019, and also had double digit win totals in 2010, 2012 and 2013. Since 2013, it has won four conference championships. In a big market for a big school playing for a big conference like the Big 12, that provides plenty of value.
5. Large fanbase
This one’s an obvious one. With a massive enrollment in a massive market, a major draw with UCF is a massive fanbase. That’s among the many reasons the school could be attractive as an expansion target and, more importantly, as a value add when the next TV deal is up.